Andrew Osenga: The singer / songwriter emerging from The Painted Desert

Wednesday 9th January 2019

Tony Cummings talked to modern worship A&R man and critically acclaimed singer/songwriter ANDREW OSENGA

Continued from page 1

Andrew: I know everyone says my new record is my favourite record, and I'm going to say that. Sometimes you can say that when you know in the back of your head the one you did seven years ago was probably the best. But I really think this is the best one I've ever made. It's called 'The Painted Desert'. You know when you walk into a room and touch the light switch and the lights turn on? A couple of years ago it felt like one day I walked into the room and the lights just didn't turn on. In my career the lights stopped turning on, in a bunch of my relationships, in my faith. It was a year of dryness from top to bottom. At first I got frantic and tried to fix everything and eventually I realised I can't fix whatever this is. I need to let God do what he's doing, which is not easy. I needed to spend some time looking at my own heart and my own life and deal with some things. At some point you go all right, I don't know how you're going to pay the bills, how you're going to fix this relationship but I'm just going to dive in and be in your presence. The songs came out of that. It's a contemplative album. I wanted it to be something people could put on and didn't have to listen to; it could be in the background and be with them.

We did a release show last night and I put it this way: when I started writing songs, when I was 15, I was trying to be cool and get girls; when I started making music for a living I found so much of my identity in being an artist. I feel like I could hear often in the songs a sub text: I really want you to think this about me. I really want you to think I'm cool, I really want you to think I'm super smart or deep or a great guitar player or whatever. Since I walked away from playing music full time a few years ago and then found myself back in a room writing songs, trying to figure out what I was doing with my life, then it was I'm not trying to be cool, I know I'm not. But I've got three daughters who are 13, 11 and six and I had this realisation that if my Dad made records I would be listening to them because I would want to know who I was and who he was. So in a lot of ways, a little bit directly but a lot indirectly, I'm writing this as a journal for my kids, for them to discover later to know where they come from. This is the first time I thought if somebody loves this record and never thinks deeply about any of the words, but can still put them at ease, that would be a gift. It's a kind of record I've never made before.

Some of the songs I'm really thrilled about. The first one is called "Beautiful Places". The song is a treasure map for my daughters. One of my favourite places in the world is in British Columbia, in Canada. It's a camp; my wife and I have been up there a few times; it's on an inlet, there are mountains. I've never been able to take my daughters there. The idea is to my daughters: scatter my ashes in beautiful places - is the first line of the song. It's about wanting to give them a sense of adventure; go chase things; go find beautiful places. If you have to take my ashes, if that's what it takes to get you to go stand in the woods by yourself, so be it. The second verse is the literal directions of how you get to the place. That song is really precious to me. There's a song on there called "The Year Of The Locust" based on the book of Joel, chapter 2. Locusts come and more locusts come and the swarms eat everything. Then an army comes and burns what's left. God's people are crying out, what are you doing? We've all felt like that. Eventually, it says, the Lord heard the cries of his people; he will redeem the years the locusts have eaten. The song identifies that truth. There's a lot of looking at Scripture and what it means to take some of these Scriptures and chew on them. Not necessarily trying to figure them out but just be friends with them and sit there with them.

Tony: This theme of the Lord redeeming the years the locusts have eaten, some would suggest that our whole world is currently being attacked by the locusts, that we are in a bad place in the nations and that we need a move of God to sort a lot of this stuff out. Nothing other than a move of God is going to sort out some of the social, political problems, which seem to be mounting up on all sides worldwide. I think that's a fair observation.

Andrew: I think it's a very fair observation.

Tony: As Andrae Crouch wrote many years ago, "Jesus is the answer." And he is the answer to every one of our social/political problems, but also in every personal experience - unemployment, or addiction or grief.

Andrew: I have a podcast. I talk to different people about changes in their lives and I interviewed a friend a couple of weeks ago who had recently lost his five and a half year old daughter. She'd been born, they didn't expect her to live and she lived for five and a half years. It was a hard life but a beautiful life. He's deep in the midst of grief and he wanted to share his story and it was an honour to be able to help him do that. After the interview was done he said, "I had a lot of people reach out to me, believing friends who said if you have to walk away from your faith, I get it. I won't judge you." He said, "I think they were trying to be nice but I don't understand it. If this stuff is true, then it really needs to be true right now. Never have I needed the Lord more than when life is so hard and when I'm in grief." His response was just beautiful. I can't stop thinking about it. If this is real, which we say it is, then it has to be real in every ounce of our being, in our politics, in our relationships. Not just Sunday morning and in certain songs but in everything.

Tony: You've got an album coming out. Because you've got a regular job at Integrity, that knocks out touring. But we've got some new factors in place now that some people call the "streaming revolution" and streaming can be a new way of finding an audience. I say it can be, no doubt you're hoping that it will be for you and your songs. Do you have a positive attitude towards the whole streaming thing at the moment?

Andrew: I actually do. I stumbled into an interesting way to release the album. I made the record last year [2017] and it was done at the beginning of this year [2018]. I raised some money to pay for it, so when people supported the record they immediately received it. I was putting a song out every month for six or seven months and the album was officially released in October. To me it's almost like when you used to watch a TV show and you'd watch it once a week then later you'd buy a DVD to watch it again. I'm an album guy; I don't love getting into an artist one song at a time but it has been fun to find that people have been discovering the record a song at a time because they'd never heard of me before and I've been around for 20 years. I feel like I've got my people. I'm hearing from people who have literally heard one or two of my songs cos it gets on some play list and they go I really like this and they go in and they find other records and other songs. I enjoy this. People complain about the money because when you buy an album it's one purchase. But if you make something that people really care about they'll listen to it over and over again for years and eventually it pays you the same. It's less about trying to get them to buy something than connecting with people. I'm not a person who has sold a ton but the music that I've made tends to be the kind that deeply connects with people and they listen to over and over.

Tony: The podcast can help with that, can't it? Cos that would give you interaction with people who already are connecting with your music.

Andrew: Yeah, my podcast is called The Pivot and it started out about career change, people who did this for a job and now do this. I thought it would be interesting but over the course of the last year and a half of doing it it's become more about who I used to be and who I am now, what my family used to be and what my family is now. None of our lives stay the same, what does that look like for different people? I come from a long line of talkers and I'm an artist and I love to share my feelings so one of the best things about the podcast is my goal is to say as little as possible and to hear what somebody else has to say; just sit down, shut up and look them in the eye and listen. And I have learned so much.

Tony: And it will no doubt inspire some future songs.

Andrew: It already has. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.

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